Employees’ Seniority Trumps Disabled Co-Workers’ ADA Rights

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

If you award first choice of promotions, shifts, vacation slots and other perks based on employees’ seniority, you’ll face a dilemma if a disabled employee requests an ADA accommodation that conflicts with that policy.

If that occurs, must you grant a disabled worker’s accommodation request in spite of his or her lower seniority? No, says a recent 5th Circuit ruling, which agrees with a key 2002 Supreme Court decision.

For example, if a disabled applicant needs a daylight shift, you can reject that request if it means not giving the shift to a more senior employee who wants it.

Key caveat: Treat all requests the same. If disabled employees or applicants can show that you arbitrarily enforce the seniority policy, they’ll have an easier time proving that your accommodation rejection is a smoke screen for bias.

Case in point: When Christopher Medrano, who has cerebral palsy, applied for a parking attendant job at the San Antonio airport, he requested an accommodation for his disability: being placed on the first shift so he could commute via a special city bus for the disabled.

The airport rejected Medrano’s request, citing its policy that gave shift preference to those with the most seniority. Medrano filed an ADA suit, claiming first-shift work was a reasonable accommodation. But the court tossed it out. Because the airport had consistently followed its seniority-shift policy, Medrano couldn’t prove that the policy was just a convenient excuse to reject his request. (Medrano v. City of San Antonio, No. 04-51224, 5th Cir., 2006)  

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